Myanmar is experiencing tremendous economic growth. With a young, growing population and a liberalised economy, it has been slated as one of 20 ‘markets of the future’ that will offer the most opportunities for consumer goods companies.
Tobacco has been identified as one of Myanmar’s top 20 key industries. Its market size is worth an estimated US$450 million — up there with dairy products and dried processed foods. The compound annual growth rate from 2013–18 for tobacco is 16 per cent, overtaking apparel (14 per cent) and consumer appliances and electronics (15 per cent).
With market liberalisation, British American Tobacco (BAT) re-entered Myanmar in 2013 a decade after it exited the country. When re-establishing itself in the country, it announced that it will invest US$50 million in a tobacco manufacturing factory. BAT already has a significant 22 per cent market share in the growing cigarette market.
Myanmar currently has over 6 million smokers. Like other Asian countries, a high percentage — 44 per cent — of adult men smoke. This number is set to increase given the growing adolescent smoking population.
In 2010 cigarette sales in Myanmar were about 13 billion sticks, but these sales are projected to almost double to 25 billion sticks in 2018. Myanmar’s projection is the highest increase among all ASEAN countries. This is bad news for the public health system given that Myanmar already has more than 70,000 tobacco-related deaths annually. Myanmar also has the lowest Human Development Index among Asian countries with a global ranking of 148 out of 188 and public health expenditure is a low 1.8 per cent of GDP.
Myanmar is a typical developing country in that the bulk of smokers are from the lower-income category. Cigarettes are also extremely cheap in Myanmar and within easy reach for the poor. The most popular pack of cigarettes costs only US$0.57. A survey on smoking indicates that about 40 per cent of Myanmar’s youths can purchase cigarettes from a store. Even more worrying is that 15 per cent of non-smoking youths have indicated that they intend to start smoking next year — again the highest percentage in the ASEAN region.